Detroit Tigers: Avila, Pleis unafraid to target arms in 2020 MLB Draft

Al Avila, Detroit Tigers (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Al Avila, Detroit Tigers (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

Detroit Tigers’ General Manager Al Avila and Director of Scouting Scott Pleis revealed to the media yesterday that they’re willing to take more pitchers in the 2020 draft.

It’s hard to have any substantive discussion about the Detroit Tigers without the mention of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. Those three pitchers head up a group of arms considered one of the best anywhere in baseball, also featuring Alex Faedo, Franklin Perez, Joey Wentz, Paul Richan, and more. When Detroit launched into its rebuild, it put all the eggs in the pitching basket, based on the premise that the team would simply buy bats when the time came to compete.

Sports fans are an infamously difficult group of people to please, but at least the complaints regarding the state of the Tigers’ farm has been consistent. The people want more hitters, and understandably so. An examination of the farm system reveals little in the way of position players who seem capable of one day holding down a regular spot in the major leagues. The likely selection of Spencer Torkelson, a sweet-swinging first baseman, will help that issue somewhat, However, the team seems likely to return to their preference for pitchers in subsequent rounds.

In a conference call with the media on Tuesday, the Tigers talked about how their staff is adapting to changes in the scouting landscape after COVID-19 ruined any chance for more live looks. Like everyone else, they’re watching lots of video and making phone calls to contact players and their families. A much more significant tidbit was reported by Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic.

This quote, while far from definitive, is a strong indication that the Tigers will be looking to add more arms to their existing embarrassment of pitching riches. For years, the team has seemed much more comfortable extracting value from pitchers, highlighted by their work with Manning and Skubal in particular. They also received praise from FanGraphs for their ability to implement “coherent pitch design,” in other words, helping their pitchers craft an arsenal of pitches that play well with one another. It makes sense, then, that the team would be seeking pitchers when adding undeveloped players to their system.

Luckily for Avila and Pleis, it’s a good year to draft pitchers in the second round.

In the recently updated MLB Pipeline ranking of the top 150 draft prospects for 2020, twenty of the top fifty players listed are collegiate pitchers. What’s more, this is considered an expecially deep draft class, with players projected to be picked well into the second round who would have a shot at first-round status in an average year. The team is in an excellent position to grab a  high-quality arm at a discount.

Who could be on their radar? That’s another question entirely. Jared Shuster, a Wake Forest lefty, throws a plus fastball that can reach 97 miles per hour, backed up by a pair of quality breaking balls and hides the ball for an outrageously long time. Duke’s Bryce Jarvis soared up draft boards after befuddling virtually every opponent he faced with his improved velocity and dastardly changeup. CJ Van Eyk does a little bit of everything for Mississippi State and has potential to be a trusty starter in pro ball as well. Heck, the team has already drafted Cole Henry, Jeff Criswell, and Jack Leftwich once before and could circle back around again.

Any one of these guys could be targeted by the Tigers, or none of them. There’s such a sea of collegiate pitching available this year that it’s difficult to tell.

If the logic presented here feels like we’re reaching for straws, I say well spotted! We are reaching for straws. The public is privy to so little going on in baseball these days that we have to read into every quote and pore over every audio byte for anything even resembling news about the Tigers. The quotes provided in this interview were little more than GM-speak and statements of the obvious. The team could easily opt for a bat in the second round and hope to scoop up a falling talent in the third. They could blow everyone away and draft Asa Lacy with the first pick and take only bats afterwards. We really don’t know what’s going to happen; that’s normal for this stage of the draft cycle.

If there was any weight behind that quote, though, don’t forget: you heard it here first.